Permaculture Productivity Levels

Discussion in 'General chat' started by wenshidi, Jun 24, 2010.

  1. wenshidi

    wenshidi Junior Member

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    When putting together a permaculture design for a client, what levels of productivity should be predicted in terms of overall garden output? What established examples can I show to the client to prove that these figures are realistic?
     
  2. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    G'day wenshidi

    Welcome to the PRI Forum

    How long is a piece of string?

    Permaculture is a design imperative that is dependent upon infinite variables.

    Productivity (in a permaculture sense) can never just be acquainted with 'output'.

    For a true measure of 'productivity', one must also measure input.

    I tried measuring (counting) the individual 'inputs' and 'outputs' (and tabulating them in a 'energy' matrix) on our 4100 sqm one day - nearly went mad in the process.

    Of course, one day I will get around to doing a full energy audit, it's just not high on the priority list of 'things to do'.

    A lengthy (2007) discussion on the topic can be found here: Productive Permaculture Systems

    Cheerio, Mark.
     
  3. Tropical food forest

    Tropical food forest Junior Member

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    hard to say

    but they shoud be able to

    +reduce household waste output by >50%
    +enjoy fresh eggs and maybe other animal products of a quality that you cant buy for very low cost
    +enjoy significantly lower cooling bills within 2 years due to appropriate shading and shelter
    +Reduce or eliminate accessory ingredients from shopping list - eg chillies, parsley, fresh herbs, many salads
    +expect to know some of the people on their street and neighbourhood better. nothing invites strangers to say hi more thana new and thriving garden
    +expect their kids to be much more in tune and eco aawre about where foods comes from and where wastes

    thats just if you plant a few trees and put in a veg and herb garden with 2 chickens and a compost bin
    -thats nothing!

    with more skill from you , and more investmnet and commitment from them you could do so much more

    but at the least their quality of life will be more real, more connected and cheaper
    if you cant deliver at least that, then your not up to the job
    but i think you probably are!
     
  4. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

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    I reckon one of the difficulties of creating a permaculture garden for others is that they may not actually understand what permaculture is, or they may have a limited understanding of its complexities. It is not always easy to convey that to people, even those who think of it as a 'more sustainable' way to live. In some ways it is probably easier to set up a productive garden (based on a permaculture design principles) that the client can understand and use and adapt as they grow and learn more. My feeling is that you can only really design a permaculture garden and build the backbone but it will be up to the users to get the most out of it. So levels of productivity are always going to be tied to the experience and commitment of the user. I could spend a million designing the ultimate permaculture property for my brother and sister in law and it would be dead and in ruins within 6 months. Give it to some old Italian bloke and it would probably blossom into something much greater than the original idea in that same time. If ya know what I mean?

    My response would be, there should be no 'expected' productivity levels. As a Taoist, I see expectation as a rung on the same ladder as disappointment.
     
  5. wenshidi

    wenshidi Junior Member

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    My investor likes facts and figures so I had give him a bit more detailed info than the piece of string theory! :)

    So here is what I quickly cobbled together in two parts.
    Any comments? (Apart from the fact that I write like a tabloid hack)

    Enhanced Productivity of Permaculture Projects and Food Forests Compared to Conventional Farming

    Although consumers have been actively voting with their forks, government-sponsored agricultural research has continued to focus on chemical-intensive agriculture. Organic farmers and agriculturalists have to rely on the organic industry or a small number of independent research groups for information (Blobaum, 1983). Intensive research on agricultural chemicals has been conducted for four decades, but organic research is still in its infancy. Rigorous scientific studies of permaculture are fewer still. The food forest is seen by many to be the highest expression of permaculture, as it focuses the principle of "maximum contemplation; minimum action". The highly complex designs that result are difficult to study using current methods, and even more difficult to compare to conventional farming operations. Even so, permaculture suggest ways to generate not only more food per unit area, but also greater diversity.
    Despite this dearth of research, it has been shown that organic farming does have many benefits over conventional farming. As permaculture and agroforesty are in some senses just more intricately designed organic systems, it is reasonable to conclude that they will offer even greater benefits than the best performing organic farms.
    According to a report entitled "The economic implications of organic farming" by Cacek and Langer, research into the economic feasibility of organic farming can be grouped into three categories: 1) direct comparisons of economic returns between organic and conventional farms, 2) analysis of economic returns based on research plot yield data, and 3) modelling comparisons of organic and conventional farms. Listed below are some of the results and conclusions that were provided in their report.
    “Several studies directly compared returns on organic and conventional farms. Lockeretz et al. (1978) compared the economic performance of 14 organic crop/livestock farms in the Midwest with that of 14 conventional farms. The study farms were paired on the basis of physical characteristics and types of farm enterprises. The market value of crops produced per unit area was 11 percent less on the organic farms. But since the cost of production was also less, the net income per unit area was comparable for both systems. A study by Roberts et al. (1979) compared data from 15 organic farms in the western Corn Belt with USDA data on representative conventional farms in the same area. In most cases the net returns were greater on the organic farms.
    Two studies comparing cash grain farms were conducted in the state of Washington. In the first study, Eberle and Holland (1979) compared three organic and three conventional farms and found that net returns per unit area were 38 percent higher on the conventional farms. However, the author of a follow-up study of six organic farms found that net returns on these farms were 22 percent higher than on the representative conventional farms
    The above-mentioned studies comparing organic and conventional farms had several weaknesses. The most obvious was the small sample sizes, which made it difficult to do any statistical tests of differences. The averages did not reflect the high variability that occurred in both yields and net returns on both types of farms. Pairing farms for the studies also caused problems, especially in work by Eberle and Holland (1979) and Berardi (1978). Finally, none of the studies included the livestock enterprises, which may be essential for optimum economic performance of organic farms.
    Although there are only a few studies in each category, and although they all have shortcomings, the direct comparisons and the plot data suggest that organic farming is economically feasible and can compete with conventional farming, at least in certain geographic areas and for certain farming enterprises.”
    One of the most serious drawbacks of this kind of research are the accounting models used to make comparisons. Beyond simple financial measurements, macroeconomic research should quantify the social benefits of organic farming, thereby enabling us to compare organic farming and permaculture on a truly like by like basis.
    Journalist Michael Pollan, identifies some of the bigger picture when he writes that “The food chain is not only complex, but implicated in three of the most serious problems we face: the energy crisis, the health care crisis, and the climate crisis. In the US, twenty percent of the fossil fuel burnt goes to feeding the population, to produce this processed food. Five hundred billion dollars of health care costs go to preventable chronic diseases linked to diet. And a third of all greenhouse gases are produced by the food system.” Comparative research into organic and conventional farming is very hard pressed to include such large societal factors.
    Cacek and Langer try to address some of these shortfalls when that write the following: “Established organic farmers are less vulnerable to natural and economic risks than conventional farmers because their systems are more diversified. They also are less able, however, to take advantage of income tax deductions. Future trends in commodity prices, input prices, pollution regulation, and research can be expected to have mixed effects on conventional and organic farmers, but the net impact will probably favor organic farmers. On a macroeconomic (i.e. national) scale, conversion to organic farming would have many benefits. It would reduce federal costs for supporting commodity prices, reduce depletion of fossil fuels, reduce the social costs associated with erosion, improve fish and wildlife habitats, and insure the productivity of the land for future generations
    Changes in soil structure, coupled with improved ground cover, decreased run-off by about 10 to 50 percent and increased infiltration by about 10 to 25 percent. All these factors combined to reduce soil erosion on organic fields by at least two-fifths, and sometimes over four-fifths (Cacek, 1984). It is difficult to place a monetary value on the water lost as run-off and the nutrients contained in the eroded soil. Nevertheless, there may be a significant difference between organic and conventional farms in the costs of replacing needed nutrients and water.
    Organic farming benefits society substantially by reducing pollution and flooding; conserving energy, soil, nutrients, fish, and wildlife; reducing federal costs for grain price supports; and insuring the supply of food for future generations. However, virtually no credible data are available to policy makers on the magnitude of these benefits, they are unable to compare organic farming with other policy alternatives.
     
  6. wenshidi

    wenshidi Junior Member

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    A more recent example of a successful organic farm using basic permaculture principles is Joel Salatin of www.polyfacefarms.com in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. where he grows grass fed cattle and chickens. One hundred acres of grass yields him 40,000 pounds of beef, 30,000 pounds of pork, 25,000 dozen eggs, 20,000 chickens, 1,000 turkeys and 1,000 rabbits. He uses some diesel for his trucks and some corn for his chickens. But for every calorie going into the system, there are hundreds if not thousands coming out. Pre-WWII, a single calorie of food energy introduced into the food system (in the form of diesel, to run tractors) yielded 2 calories of edible food. It is estimated that conventional farming now requires ten calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of food energy. Salatin's results are considerably higher than the average yield of 10,642 pounds per one acre from forty seven different crops, according to two different sources
    (California Statistical Abstract, Dept. of Finance, 1992 and organic crop information from:The Owner-Built Homestead, by Ken & Barbara Kern).
    In a Times article from April 29, 2007, it was estimated that there were 4,000 permaculture projects in 120 countries. An 2004 interview with Bill Mollison, the founder of the modern permaculture concept, revealed that his education efforts were responsible for producing an estimated 500,000 Permaculture Design Course (PDC) graduates in one hundred and sixty countries worldwide. If we extrapolate this forward to 2010, we can estimate that there should now more than eight million qualified permaculturalists, and that there will be more than sixty million if the trend continues to 2020.
    The huge growth in permaculture practitioners must inevitably have had an impact on the amount of projects and food forests throughout the world. Three years on from the Times article mentioned above, and the release of numerous permaculture books, TV shows and DVDs, the number of newly established food forests has exploded. Based on the amount of PDC graduates, I think that it is fair to estimate that there are now ten times as many projects in well over two hundred countries. While there have been sporadic reports of some projects failing, this is usually due to NGO funding drying up. These are sometimes termed by aid workers as ‘stop and flop’ projects as opposed to ‘go and grow’ projects.
    The same interview with Bill Mollison suggests some of the enormous potential of permaculture design projects. Here is what he has to say about the common banana plant:
    “If you go to the Ag Dept. anywhere in the World and say ”How do I plant bananas ?” and they say “Put it every 15 foot in the square” and if you ignore that and put them in circles 2m across 12 per circle you will get 80 times the yield. Now no agricultural fertiliser will produce that but if you re-pattern your cropping system you can double, quadruple your yield. You can take it up like bananas, we think we actually got better than 80 times the yield - by re-patterning the layouts of your crop. When I plant bananas in a circle, I do 25 to a 5m diameter circle and they have powerful resistance to high winds, which is what wrecks the banana product- ion on remote islands.”
    He also raises an important point that is often overlooked by normal research and that is the value of the the informational yield of a permaculture project. “All of our teaching in the third world is at no cost, that is we make our money by publishing, and we’ve made, I don't know, the best year we ever had, we made about a million dollars. We make about a quarter of a million dollars every year now.” Patrick Whitefield writes: “Estimates of the number of edible plants on Earth vary, but the total is probably somewhere between 35,000 and 70,000.” Bearing in mind that ninety percent of food currently comes form just ten different species, that means that there is a lot of knowledge still to be discovered and shared with the worldwide community.
    Despite the wealth of non-financial advantages promised by permaculture and food forests in particular, there are still few government provided incentives to offset start up and running costs, as there are in conventional agriculture. In addition, returns are very much long term, and initial investments can sometimes take years to show a financial return. Considering that some forest canopy systems can take decades or even centuries to mature, it is unlikely that we are going to see truly accurate measurements of how well these natural systems outperform our short-term high input annual mono-cultures in the very near future.
     
  7. Noz

    Noz Junior Member

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    To estimate yields, you need to use conventional organic farming as a foundation. https://www.diggers.com.au/pdf/MiniPlotHarvestPlan.pdf
    Then, guesstimate the relative differences in high energy inputs like bought fertiliser versus your own compost, mulch or guild. Similarly with water availability, light reflecting from walls, CO2 loading from chickens etc. I suspect humanure would give a higher yield for fruit trees. :grin: Without this level of fertilisation I'd suggest yields would often be lower by approx 1/2 per tree if it isn't pampered.
    Then, put a great big disclaimer on the lot, promise extended harvest across the seasons and natural resilience and boom! Bob's your uncle.
     

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